Welcome to The Bonefish Flat

There's a stiff wind in your face as you squint in the sun trying to see what the guide sees. "Bonefish at 12 o'clock about 90 feet, do you see it, mon?" You don't and keep squinting, your hat pulled low to keep the sun out of your eyes. "Bonefish at 11 o'clock 70 feet out. Come on man, do you see it?" As the guide is calmly shifting the skiff into position, this time you spot the fish, "I got, it," you reply.

"OK, Mon, Bonefish 50 feet at 10 o'clock. Cast when you're ready."

Cast when you're ready. And with that you drop your fly, roll out a cast, false cast once, and then...

Welcome to the bonefish flat.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Stalking the Flats with Brian O'Keefe

Several years ago I heard a podcast featuring Brian O’Keefe describing the different fishing opportunities in the Bahamas.  From giant bonefish mistaken for cuda’s near Moore’s Island to countless numbers of fish in Andros, Brian painted a vivid picture of a bonefish nirvana. I already had a passion for fly fishing and my interest in flats fishing was just sparking.  Brian’s depiction of the Bahamas was like pouring gasoline on this spark.

Fast forward to today and The Bonefish Flat has been up and running for almost three years.  I’ve had a chance to interview some great personalities in saltwater fly fishing including Aaron Adams of the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and Chris Peterson of Hells Bay Boatworks.

Last week I finally had a chance to talk fishing with Brian O’Keefe. For those of you who don’t know Brian, he is half of Catch Magazine and oversees the content. In addition to Catch, Brian is an amazing photographer who has fly fished the world and taken some spectacular pictures along the way.  Whether you know it or not, you have doubtless seen his work in your favorite fly fishing magazine. 

It will come as no surprise that when I talked to Brian, he was getting ready to head off on a trip to Mexico where bonefish, tarpon, permit, and snook were on the agenda.

Brian O'Keefe on The Bonefish Flat

Catch Magazine

Catch Magazine is a bi-monthly online magazine devoted to fly fishing photography.  “The grand vision for Catch,” Brian said, “is keeping up with current technology by continuing to evolve the magazine. This means making sure Catch can run on things like your iPhone, iPad, Kindle Fire, etc and integrating with social media like Facebook and Twitter.  Not to mention making sure Catch will run on older computer systems.  Catch is seen in 148 countries and over 11,000 cities.  This means that the technology has to be compatible with all kinds of different technologies, and that’s a lot to keep up with.”

You might know that Catch is going to switch over to a subscription service. “I talked to hundreds of people all over the world to get a feel for what a fair price point would be.  I settled on $12 per year, just $2 per issue,” Brian said.  We discussed the changing attitudes toward paying for online content.  While many of us expect online content to be free, you now see a growing number of Web sites charging a subscription fee.  The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal come to mind.  O’Keefe agreed stating that he and his partner, Todd Moen, spend a huge amount of time putting Catch together and without some sort of compensation, keeping Catch going would be in difficult if not impossible.

I asked Brian whether there are any up and coming photographers we should keep an eye out for.  “There are too many to mention,” he said.  “I look at Catch in simple terms.  Today everyone shares photographs online or with their mobile device.  Catch is that to an extreme.  People who submit pictures to Catch are travelers, guides, and other professionals who are just into the technology behind the cameras. With Catch Magazine, we see great photos coming in all the time.  In fact, we have content already lined up for the next five issues.  Because everyone has a camera, and oftentimes are getting a good result, contributors are in the hundreds of people. It’s the no-names I like the best without a lot of pomp and circumstance.”

When asked if he had a favorite photograph from Catch, Brian didn’t hesitate, “The permit from episode one.   I get accused of “altering” it, which of course means photoshop.  But I took that picture using 35 mm film, and there was no altering going on.  The conditions were just right to provide the natural colors and effects,” he said.  

O’Keefe on Bonefishing

Inspired by O’Keefe’s bonefish podcast, it was only fitting we talked extensively about flats fishing.  One thing I admired was how he keeps simplicity at the fore- front. As I prepare for an upcoming bonefishing trip, I was curious how Brian gets ready for his trips.  I asked about some of his favorite and essential gear.

Because Brian has extensive camera gear and some computer equipment, he has to pack smart on the fishing gear.  He throws in a few extra hats and a good lightweight but tough waterproof jacket and some spare battery packs.

Check out this double.

With regard to hooks, he likes “a sharp one.”  When asked his favorite rod and reel combo, he doesn’t really have one other than a fast action rod.  He has never bought a very high-end reel, either.  He does place a high value on his fly line and a finger protector.

Brian said he does tend to go overboard on bringing flies and once showed a box of 50 permit flies to his guide. He offered up some good tips, though, like trying the Avalon fly which he has used to good success.  He also enjoys receiving a new fly now and again from a friend to try out on one of his adventures.  Another tip is to tie up a few blind bonefish flies for the bones that get their backs up, literally, out of the water.  “A fish in this type of water is almost impossible to catch without spooking, so you need a fly that lands without any plop.”

“So if you could pick one spot to fish, and had to pay for it yourself, where would you go,” I asked.  “The Seychelles is one place that is on the bucket list, but living in Oregon it literally is the furthest place away from home.”  He cited a huge variety of fish species, as well as a shot at monster bonefish.  Cuba is another destination high on the list because of big bonefish and tarpon living on relatively untouched flats.  He noted that Castro actually set up the Jardines de la Reina and only a limited number of rods are allowed to fish at a time.  This means a lot of big, dumb fish in a beautifully protected environment which he saw first hand as he had a chance to dive some of the reefs. 

For someone like me who writes a saltwater fly fishing blog, I couldn’t resist asking Brian his advice on how to break into the outdoor writing and photography business.  He said traditional media is not that easy.  With photography, it is really hard these days because there are so many people in it and a lot of seasoned professionals out there that publications rely on.  He recommended, as I’ve heard before, combining writing and photography because it’s easier for an editor to go to one place to get what they need for a story. 

With regard to writing, “just keep doing it.  Write as much as you can.  Try your local fly fishing newsletter.” He said a lot of guys get started doing regional or local fishing coverage.  He thought outlets like blogs are a great way to get into the business because they let you practice and really work on the craft. 

To wrap up, we talked about a memorable fish.  Brain told the story of fishing in the Berry Islands with a guy who was really impatient and would get on the bow and just cast over and over again.   “A real Type A busy body.  Then, he wanted to try my rod.”  Reluctantly, Brian agreed and the guy started casting wildly. 

Later, it was O’Keefe’s turn on the bow and he hooked a monster bone that he thought was at least 31 inches.  The fish would eventually break him off.  After examining his leader, he noticed a series of wind knots that his “fishing buddy” had put in the leader. 

O’Keefe also said one of his biggest bonefish was caught on Long Island, Bahamas.  He was wading and wading a big area in the north of the island near a big blue hole when several big bonefish came along.  His fly led the fish by 15 feet but the school just spooked.  He then got the idea to set up a type of bonefish stakeout by returning the next day and semi-burying the fly in the sand.  Sure enough, the same school came back, he gave the fly a twitch, and landed an 11-pound bonefish in a method that sounds to me like setting a bonefish landmine. 

Having caught probably hundreds of species on the fly, I asked what his favorite fish to catch on fly is.  “I have a deep respect for big bonefish,” he said.  “Not to ignore casting to the smaller fish, like some people, but it is neat to pursue the big ones.”  But true to form, as Brian and I kept talking he added, “But you know, mutton snapper are a really cool fish, and seeing tailing mutton snappers are pretty cool too.  And you know, big barracuda.  Really big barracuda, put up a spectacular fight with lot’s of aerial action too.” 

Brian is the real deal and a truly great ambassador to our sport.  I hope I get the chance to share a boat with him one day.  Quite simply, the guy just loves to fish and it shows.  

No comments:

Post a Comment